The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has decided to call off the statewide bear hunt just 36 hours into it. The hunt began on Saturday when about 3,700 permitted hunters were allowed to begin the first legal bear hunt in Florida since 1994. Hunters greatly exceeded projections from the FWC by killing 293 bears in less than two days. The hunt was originally scheduled to last seven days but the unexpected success rates have pressured officials to shut it down early.
There were four regions in which hunting was allowed and one of those being the Central region. The Central region is made up of Lake, Orange, Seminole, and Volusia counties. The kill limit for this region was set to 100 but hunters in the area had already produced 139 dead bears by mid Sunday. Many officials believe the high success rate of hunters is due to hunter preparation and bear populations exceeding initial estimates. There was originally believed to be about 3,500 bears in the area but many officials now think that number was too low.
Not everyone was happy about the hunt and local activist group Speak Up Wekiva played an influential role in having the hunt called off. Speak Up Wekiva sued the FWC and applied pressure for the hunt to be shut down early. The hunt was originally supposed to be a two day minimum, but pressure from Speak Up Wekiva was influential in the decision for it to be ended ahead of schedule. Some believe that if not for their actions, many more bears could have been lost.
Why have a bear hunt in Florida? Proponents of the hunt are aiming to make certain areas and neighborhoods safer from encroaching bear populations. Incidents involving close encounters with bears have been on the rise in Central Florida and 3 years ago bears were taken off the list of protected species.